I spend a lot of time following awards season. Not because I’m fascinated with Hollywood elites citing themselves, but because I care about movies, and care about the good ones getting the respect they deserve so they’re looked back on as prestigious years later. But the Oscars get a lot wrong, every damn year. The group isn’t particularly diverse, and there’s a serious stigma against genre films and big-budget pieces of entertainment.
So, unlike my regular Oscar PREDICTIONS, the ZAKscars celebrate my person choices. Think of it as who I’d vote for if I wasn’t just another dude with a laptop.
Choices are ordered by preference, with ones that actually got nominated in GREEN.
- Ex Machina
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The End of the Tour
- Love & Mercy
- The Hateful Eight
- Beasts of No Nation
My list here bears resemblance to my Top 10 Movies of 2015 list. In fact, it’s that list exactly, just with The Lobster removed, since it’s not eligible for these Oscars. While I only agree with the Academy on one film –the glorious Mad Max: Fury Road– it’s safe to assume that most of my other choices were at least in the discussion, given the way the season played out.
Sicario was a pulse-pounding, smart, and apolitical action thriller. We don’t get those very often. Ex Machina was a minimalist sci-fi movie that deals with the male sexual fantasy in the most interesting ways, not to mention a resounding aesthetic achievement. Love & Mercyoffered a unique take on the musical biopic, showing off both the insecurities and genius of Brian Wilson. The End of the Tour was little more than a movie about two dudes talking, one of those dudes David Foster Wallace, but their words never allowed my attention to slip.
I personally loved The Hateful Eight; its slow burn, its plethora of fun performances, and its outrageous amount of visual detail in every frame. Beasts of No Nation wasn’t perfect but its most harrowing moments and performances rank amongst the year’s best. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t realize what they had with Creed until it was too late. It’s so much more than just another franchise installment. Carol, perhaps the Academy’s most shocking omission, was a groundbreaking love story brought to visual life by the great Todd Haynes, and possibly the year’s best on a technical level.
As for some movies I certainly considered -there’s Brooklyn, and Spotlight, and The Martian– all of which were nominated.
- George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
- Dennis Villeneuve (Sicario)
- Ryan Coogler (Creed)
- Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)
- Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation)
George Miller should win this award, and I don’t think it’s all that close. Returning to the series that brought him acclaim 40 years ago, Miller gave us the best action movie of the decade (possibly the century). The talent it takes to oversee all of the elements that made such a risky venture run cannot be understated.
Dennis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors and Sicario is his best work yet, showing off his Fincher-esque ability to squeeze tension out of everything. Ryan Coogler is a fucking star, and what he did with Creed –turn what could’ve been another cheesy Rocky movie into a moving tale of American urban love and individuality- should not be overlooked. Only Tarantino would’ve attempted something like The Hateful Eight, and while it’s not for everybody, its subtlety and sense of tone show how far Tarantino has come as a DIRECTOR. For all the talk about how difficult The Revenant was to make, there’s very little discussion about the strenuos production of Beasts of No Nation, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s passion project that ended up being quite good, against all odds.
Also considered were Todd Haynes for Carol, Alex Garland for Ex Machina, and Ridley Scott for The Martian.
Best Lead Actor
- Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
- Matt Damon (The Martian)
- Michael B. Jordan (Creed)
- Jason Segel (The End of the Tour)
- Tom Hardy (Legend)
Yeah, so I think it’s ridiculous to award DiCaprio for just grunting for 2.5 hours, no matter how many times he’s been overlooked. Want to know a deserving actor who’s never even been nominated? PAUL FUCKING DANO. He was outstanding as the Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, transported you into the mind of an artist stressed by the weight of creating a masterwork.
The Martian works primarily because of Matt Damon and his ability to make you believe that his character could stay so positive amidst overwhelming odds. It’s the best work of his career. Michael B. Jordan put the gym time in for Creed, and also created a soon-to-be iconic character. Too bad the studio didn’t work him. Jason Segel went the Jonah Hill route, gracefully stepping into more serious work, in this case as famed author David Foster Wallace. His performance is every bit as complex, clever, and confused as the man himself. Tom Hardy got nominated for The Revenant. It’s nice to see him finally get one, but his best turn came in Legend.
Also considered were Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation, Andrew Garfield for 99 Homes, and Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs.
Best Lead Actress
- Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn)
- Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
- Rooney Mara (Carol)
- Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
- Margot Robbie (Z for Zachariah)
Category fraud runs amok here, as two of my choices in lead (Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara) were cited by the Academy in supporting. Both would’ve had a chance to win here if campaigned honestly.
Saoirse Ronan was so, so good in Brooklyn. She’s maybe the best young actress working today and is a must-watch for everything she does moving forward. Daisy Ridley did more than just go through the lightsaber motions in that little movie you may have heard of. Margot Robbie kept the underrated Z for Zachariah together with her organic work. She’s another name to watch for the next 10+ years.
Also considered were likely winner Brie Larson for Room, Cate Blanchett for Carol, and Emily Blunt for Sicario.
Best Supporting Actor
- Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
- Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
- Benicio del Toro (Sicario)
- Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight)
- Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
The strongest category of the year. Mark Ruffalo has never been better than he was inSpotlight, and that’s saying something. SAG Winner Idris Elba lifted much of Beasts of No Nation with his powerful screen presence. Despite his character being mysterious and quiet, Benicio del Toro gave us another great creation in Sicario.
A bit more outside the box, Walton Goggins managed to stand out amongst bigger names inThe Hateful Eight. Eventually, the Academy has to notice Oscar Isaac. His work in Ex Machinamay just be his best yet, despite it being a bit more one-note than his other stuff.
Also considered were Michael Shannon for 99 Homes, Sylvester Stallone for Creed, and Joel Edgerton for The Gift.
Best Supporting Actress
- Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
- Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa)
- Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
- Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy)
- Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)
Me slotting a few nominees into lead opened up some space here. I believe Ex Machina was Alicia Vikander’s best work of the year, as she kept us guessing throughout. Jennifer Jason Leigh gets two nominations for me. First for her outstanding voice work in Anomalisa, and then for her restrained but psychotic work in The Hateful Eight. She had quite the year.
Elizabeth Banks showed off her dramatic talent as much more than just a love interest inLove & Mercy. Rebecca Ferguson managed to out-Tom Cruise the actual Tom Cruise in the latest Mission: Impossible.
Also considered were Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Rachel Wiesz for Youth, and Tessa Thompson for Creed.
Best Original Screenplay
- Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer (Spotlight)
- Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
- Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)
- Michael Alan Lerner & Oren Moverman (Love & Mercy)
- David O’Russell & Annie Mumolo (Joy)
Spotlight is a writing achievement above all else, and SHOULD be an easy choice for the Academy as the winner here. I was thrilled to see Ex Machina get nominated here, as it’s a smart movie that doesn’t sacrifice entertainment value. The Hateful Eight may not be Tarantino’s best but it shows why so many love his work. Love & Mercy flipped the musical biopic on its head, while Joy was an ambitious project much better than it got credit for.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa)
- Donald Marguiles (The End of the Tour)
- Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)
- Drew Goddard (The Martian)
- Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington (Creed)
Adapting his own play, Charlie Kaufman wrote perhaps the most Kaufman script possible for Anomalisa, and that’s always a good thing. The End of the Tour managed to weed out the unnecessary and show off two brilliant writers. Brooklyn is the best script yet from one of the biggest writers in the game. Drew Goddard allowed The Martian to retain all the hilarity and scientific intrigue from the novel. Creed had some great dialogue that blended black vernacular with old white man motivational speech. Its sense of each characters voice was fantastic.
- Roger Deakins (Sicario)
- Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight)
- Ed Lachman (Carol)
- John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)
- Masanobu Takayangi (Spotlight)
I pretty much see eye-to-eye with the Academy here. Roger Deakins is a 12-time nominee who’s somehow never won. Sicario would be a just and deserved win for him. Robert Richardson made sure the whole 70mm presentation wasn’t just a gimmick with his work on The Hateful Eight. Ed Lachman has always been good and Carol shows of his restrained style. John Seale came out of retirement to shoot Mad Max: Fury Road, and his work with both landscape shots and during action sequences showed off his talent. I’m not sure why Masanobu Takayangi didn’t receive more acclaim for his work on Spotlight. His use of the city, specifically the presence of old Catholic churches, to reinforce the films themes was a delight to watch.
Best Film Editing
- Margaret Sixel & Jason Ballantine (Mad Max: Fury Road)
- Tom McArdle (Spotlight)
- Joe Walker (Sicario)
- Claudia Castello & Michael Shawver (Creed)
- Kevin Stitt (Jurassic World)
Sixel and Ballantine were handed a whole lot of restless footage, and they chopped it into the masterpiece that was Mad Max: Fury Road. One thought of as an obvious winner here, Spotlight moves briskly from location to location, victim to victim. Sicario, specifically it’s action sequences, are perhaps the technical marvels of the year. Even the sports training montages in Creed weren’t corny, while Jurassic World sparked a sense of awe in me that transitioned smoothly frame to frame.
That’s it. For the sake of time, I’ll hold off on the remaining technical categories.